Rules, rules, rules. The 10 commandments, the Catechism, the precepts, encyclicals, letters… Why is the Church seemingly so slow to respond to the changes in the world and who decides what I should and shouldn’t believe? This is what I will be touching on below. If you haven’t yet read part one of this article, it paints quite a nice picture of why we have rules and will lay a good foundation for what the ‘rules’ are and who makes them. You can check it out here: http://thecuriouscatholic.com/why-does-the-catholic-church-have-so-many-rules/

So now that we know that the ‘rules’ are there to HELP us and ultimately make us happy (leading us to heaven), let’s examine where they come from and who makes them.

 

DOES THE CHURCH EVER CHANGE THE ‘RULES’ ?

Before it is possible to even begin to look into the rules though, we first need to take a look at what are called the 3D’s: Dogma, Doctrine and Discipline. Each hold a separate weight in the Catholic faith and knowing the 3 D’s will help us understand why some teachings can never change and why some can be changed but may take time – helping us in our discussions with friends and helping us grow in our own spiritual maturity. The reason some teachings cannot be changed is because we as Catholics believe them to be divinely revealed to us and no matter how far the world has come or changed, no human will ever be able to change what was revealed by God himself, unless He physically reveals to us another way.

Dogma:

Dogmas are essential for belief. They have been divinely revealed by God and can never change. They form the core of what it means to be Catholic in belief. Therefore dogma’s (such as believing that Jesus was in fact God who came down to earth) will be a teaching that will never be changed. Some other examples are that we believe in one God, Christ rose from the dead on the third day, Christ did not die for the predestined only, Mary was born without stain of Original sin, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, and the list goes on.

If it all gets too much to remember, everything in the creed is most definitely dogma and anything else divinely revealed by God. It would be unhelpful for a Catholic to have a list of rules (and trust me I found many resources online that list the dogmas of the faith) as that would turn an experiential spirituality into a box-ticking one. The creed lists the fundamentals and all other dogma is expanding on those truths.

A dogma is therefore a truth revealed by God (in whichever way) which the Magisterium of the Church (basically a fancy word for the teaching authority of the Church – literally from the Latin for tutor/guardian) declares as binding.

Doctrine:

This is the broader form of ‘rules’ in the church. It encapsulates all the teachings of the church which are both necessary and not necessary for the integrity of the Faith. Included in this is dogma which is yet to be revealed or clarified through the Magisterium.

One typical example of a doctrine that became dogma was the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the womb. Before Pope Pius IX clarified this through council, Catholics were free to disagree. It is now considered to be essential for belief.

Discipline:

The discipline of the Church is the one area that has the most effective power over the faithful who belong to it. It is the most likely to be subject to change and affects our daily expression of faith. Some examples are abstaining from meat on Fridays, receiving communion in the hand and saying the Mass in vernacular instead of Latin (for example). These kinds of rules can change within a specific diocese or even throughout the entire Church. With these matters, the Magisterium must create the most conducive atmosphere for our salvation and are often decided on using practical realities (people want to hear the Gospel in their own tongue, hence Latin was out and vernacular Mass was in, for example). So the teaching authority of the Church will take what the matter is and see how to reconcile it with truth to come to an outcome most conducive to guiding us to salvation.

There are countless times where I have had a conversation with another Catholic who has confused Discipline with Dogma, not knowing that Discipline can change. So as a Church we really aren’t as backward and stubborn as some might claim. The Church pays very careful attention to protecting its people and wants to guide us closer to heaven – that kind of wisdom is not proclaimed over night. Understanding the difference between these three D’s, we can enrich our experience of engaging with the faith personally and with others.

 

WHO, THEN, DECIDES WHAT’S DOGMA, DOCTRINE OR DISCIPLINE?

The teaching authority of the Catholic Church is vested in the Magisterium, which is made up of theologians and headed by the Pope and the Bishops. It’s important to note that Sacred Scripture and Tradition form an important part of developing teaching and the Magisterium is not independent of those teachings. Either the exercise of the Magisterium is when the Pope, acting as shepherd of the faithful, defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals, or, more regularly (in what we call the Ordinary Magisterium) the Magisterium is exercised by Popes or Bishops in statements collectively or in documents like Catechisms and encyclicals or other “official” Church documents. All of these are carefully thought through in consultation with scripture and tradition (and guided through prayer and the Holy Spirit).

It’s important to remember that not ALL statements that are made through the ordinary Magisterium are infallible (this is the belief that the Holy Spirit protects the Church – and the proclaimed statements – from error). Infallibility of universal commentary is only achieved when there is a universal proclamation through the ages by all of the Bishops or if it is proclaimed, through council, by the Pope.

So ultimately, God reveals what is Dogma and the different exercises of the magisterium decide what is doctrine and discipline.

 

I THOUGHT THERE WERE ONLY THE 10 COMMANDMENTS. ARE THERE OTHER RULES?!

Have you ever heard of the Precepts of Catholic Faith? Neither had I until a few months ago but they are cited as teachings in addition to that of the 10 commandments. Depending on which Catechism you refer to, you will either find 5, 6 or 7 precepts.

The most commonly cited precepts are (CCC: 2042):

  • You shall attend Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and you shall forego any work obligations that may impede on your ability to sanctify such days.
  • You shall confess your sins to a priest at least once a year.
  • You shall receive the blessed Eucharist at least during the Easter Season
  • You shall observe the days of abstinence and fasting as prescribed by the Church
  • You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church

In addition to these, sometimes the precepts that you shall participate in the Church’s mission of evangelisation of souls, and to obey the laws of the Church regarding Matrimony, are cited and I think they are beautiful. The book of Wisdom puts it beautifully (6: 10-11): “For those who keep the holy precepts hallowed shall be found holy, and those learned in them will have ready a response. Desire therefore my words; long for them and you shall be instructed [or lead].”

 

Ultimately, a lot goes into deciding what it is the Church teaches and what the Church decides is dogma, doctrine and discipline. We have got to believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding her and that she will always teach what is best for our salvation.

So, who makes the rules? Ultimately we have got to believe that God does, and we must continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church and particularly our teachers as they assist us in our journey to salvation.

 


About the Author

Danilo Acquisto11430097_1640475269500809_6428364713345833448_n

I am a 24-year-old  busy-body to put it simply. I work on national TV as a television presenter and have 2 radio shows and I love exploring various forms of ministry. Food is definitely my weak point. I live in beautiful Cape Town and have a BA in Law and Sociology. I have a passion for people and digital media (a bit of a contrast, I know). I am ADD and I LOVE it. Look there goes a bunny. Oh and being Catholic was the best gift my parents could have given me. I don’t know how I would have made it through the world (never mind the world of media) without a strong Church Community.